With Tommy Rees at Alabama, other schools didn't stand much chance landing Tyler Buchner
Tommy Rees broke out a slight grin and chuckled when he thought about all it took to recruit Tyler Buchner.
"Look, It’s been like three-and-a-half years recruiting you," Rees told Buchner in 2020. "We’re through the roof it’s finally coming to get you here on campus."
Rees was speaking to Buchner on a video call right after Notre Dame had signed the quarterback from California, and Rees told Buchner on the video posted to the Fighting Irish's YouTube page that Rees didn't want to let Buchner leave campus when he was a high school freshman without first offering him a scholarship.
"It’s been nothing short of what we thought it would be, and you’ve exceeded our expectations of how you’ve handled yourself," Rees said. "So we’re fired up to get you here.”
Fast forward to 2023, and Rees is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban hired him early this offseason. Then, after spring practices a week ago, Buchner entered the transfer portal, visited Tuscaloosa, and later committed to Alabama.
By doing so, he jumps into a quarterback battle with Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson to replace Bryce Young, the Heisman Trophy winner who started at quarterback the past two seasons and was the No. 1 overall pick in the recent NFL Draft.
"We wanted to give our quarterbacks in our program every opportunity to win the job in spring practice, and we felt like we needed to add some competition in the room," Saban said to ESPN at the NFL Draft. "… We think (Buchner has) got the right kind of character and attitude to be a positive influence on our team."
Whether Buchner goes on to win the starting job remains to be seen. He will have to earn it during practices leading into the fall. It's unknown whether he will or won't win the job. However, there is one thing that is known: He has a strong connection with Rees.
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Robbie Owens, the former coach of Helix Charter High School who worked with Buchner in 2020, said he didn't think other college programs interested in Buchner stood a chance to land him in the transfer portal.
"I truly thought the Tommy Rees connection was something no other school was going to be able to come back and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this’ that was going to be able to come and (top) that," Owens told The Tuscaloosa News.
Owens knew that, and he didn't even spend that much time working with Buchner. The quarterback transferred to Helix from the Bishop's School ahead of his senior year, but COVID-19 forced the fall 2020 season to be postponed. So the two never worked together in games.
Danny Mitchell, however, served as the offensive coordinator at the Bishop's School and worked with Buchner over a four-year span. Mitchell saw the connection between Rees and Buchner grow.
"They’re both very similar in demeanor," Mitchell said. "What I mean by that is, I think Tyler has a very calming presence about him. I believe Tommy is the same way. Every once in a while, you get Tommy on a camera and he gets fiery during the game. That’s kind of what you want. You want a passionate dude during the game. That’s kind of how Tyler is during the game. He’s passionate. But he is always level. He’s always steady. There’s a difference between passion and emotion. I think Tyler is that. He’s very steady. Things don’t really faze him."
The two worked together for two seasons at Notre Dame. Buchner saw time in 10 games as a freshman in 2021, passing for 298 yards on 35 passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Then Buchner earned the starting job ahead of the 2022 season, but an injury kept him out for 10 games. He returned to lead the Fighting Irish to victory over South Carolina in the Gator Bowl with five total touchdowns and three interceptions.
Mitchell, from what he knows about the connection between Rees and Buchner, said he thinks the trust and autonomy Rees can give is what made Buchner want to follow Rees to Tuscaloosa.
"I think what makes it really special," Mitchell said, "it's blatantly obvious there’s trust between those two."